Quiche blog
In April I’ll be publishing another book, which, when the time comes, I’ll be flogging relentlessly.  But an early comment from Robert Sietsema on a Village Voice blog got my hackles up, a criticism about the book's being Franco-centric in all things culinary.  And the reason for the raised hackles is not that it’s critical, but rather because it indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of cooking that is all too widespread.  Here is the statement about the book: “it's completely retrograde in its purview – everything seems to be French (or at least Franco-American) in its underpinnings, as if the myriad cuisines of the world did not exist.”

This is exactly what bothers me about criticism of all things French in the culinary world.  My book, which is called Ratio, is about the fundamentals of cooking (and using weight-based ratios of basic ingredients), and while those may have been best categorized and explained by French cooks beginning hundreds of years ago, these fundamentals apply to every kind of cooking there is, Mexican, Italian, Russian, Asian, because food behaves the same in one country as it does in another. 

For instance, just because we call a custard crème Anglaise doesn’t mean it’s exclusively French.  All culinary cultures have custards like the quiche above, or the ice cream below.  So saying that something is retrograde because it has French underpinnings is to fail to understand that all cooking can be reduced to a handful of fundamental techniques, regardless of the language you use to describe them.  It’s the same as arguing that crème caramel and a Spanish flan are different preparations. My point throughout the book is that if we know the ratio for the vinaigrette (three parts oil, one part vinegar) we don’t simply know one French sauce, we know an infinite number of such sauces, whether a lime-peanut vinaigrette for a Thai-inspired salad or a chimichurri for grilled steak (both of which are discussed in the book).

If I’d written a recipe book, which is what 95% of all “cookbooks” are, then Sietsema would have a valid point.  But I don’t write recipe books.  Come to think of it, I wish there were more of a distinction between cookbooks and recipe books.

I guess what riles me, though, is being misconstrued.  I do not deny being Franco-centric, but by discussing the fundamentals of any cuisine you are necessarily talking about all cuisines and about how protein and fat and eggs and flour and sugar and salt behave when combined in differing amounts under differing circumstances.

Of course, I love a classic French Quiche Lorraine, loaded with bacon lardons and sautéed onions and cheese.  But here is something I’m sure no one knew before and I hope it is a revelation that carries you aloft throughout your day and into the next.  Here it is: when you freeze the classic French sauce called crème Anglaise, you get American ice cream!  It’s true!  I tried.  It’s like magic.
Ice Cream color
 
Tradtional Crème Anglaise

(from Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Every Day Cooking, Scribner, April 7)

•    8 ounces milk
•    8 ounces cream
•    1 vanilla bean, split down its length
•    4 ounces sugar (1/2 cup)
•    4 ounces yolk (7 yolks)

Combine the milk cream and vanilla bean in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer.  Remove from the heat and let the bean steep for fifteen minutes.  With a pairing knife, scrape the beans from the pod into the milk-cream mixture.  Discard the pod (or store it in sugar).

Combine the sugar and yolks and stir vigorously with a whisk for thirty seconds or so (this will help the sugar to begin dissolving and will also help the egg to cook more evenly).

Fill a large bowl with a 50-50 mixture of ice and water, and place a second bowl into the ice bath.  Set a fine-mesh strainer in the bowl.

Over medium heat, bring the cream just to a simmer, then pour it slowly into the yolks while whisking continuously.  Pour the mixture back into the pan and continue stirring over medium heat until the mixture is slightly thick, or nappé—it should be completely pourable but if you dip a spoon in it, it should be thick enough on the spoon to draw a line through it—2 to 4 minutes, depending how hot your burner is.

Pour the sauce through the strainer into the bowl set in the ice bath.  Stir the sauce with a rubber spatula until it is cold.  Cover and refrigerate till ready to use.

Makes about 2 cups of sauce, great for tarts, berries, cakes.  Freeze it in your ice cream machine if you want it to become ice cream.

Update 2/25: Many of the comments, for which I'm very grateful, are more critical of Sietsema than I'd imagined they would be so I want to note that I wasn't intending to vent after beign criticized or to criticize the writer—rather I meant to address an issue that continues to come up with regard to my work. Regardless where I stand, it's a point worthy of debate from both sides and a debate I hope is ongoing.

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68 Wonderful responses to “Is Francophilia Retrograde?”

  • Sapidus

    Cooking techniques and ingredient ratios may cross culinary boundaries, and knowledge of one culinary tradition can inform and enhance appreciation of other traditions. Unfortunately, applying French / Continental standards to non-Western cuisines may interfere with understanding the internal logic of those cuisines. For example, you wrote:

    “. . . if we know the ratio for the vinaigrette (three parts oil, one part vinegar) we don’t simply know one French sauce, we know an infinite number of such sauces, whether a lime-peanut vinaigrette for a Thai-inspired salad . . .”

    The problem with this statement is that Thai (as opposed to “Thai-inspired”) salad dressings typically contain no oil whatsoever. Instead, the fundamental technique is to combine the strong flavors of lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, chiles, garlic, etc. together with the salad ingredients to create a harmonious whole. David Thompson and Kasma Loha-Unchit have wonderful descriptions of the process.

    Food may behave the same in all countries, but there is a world of different approaches to its preparation. Many of those approaches are quite “foreign” compared with French cooking traditions.

  • One flag to rule them all

    Don’t let that fool worry you. His John Torode review below his review of your book gives the game away. Published in England? It’s published in Britain (or the UK, if you like) – for the whole British market, regardless of whether the publisher is headquartered in London. Wales, Scotland et al. get the book too.

    So by the time you read that it has “lots and lots of French recipes adapted for English tastes” you already know where his head’s at. Right, we “English” can’t stomach French food if it’s too…French. As Torode is an Australian and some of his readers would be Scottish, this could get really confusing…

    Amusing, really, that a writer who points out the supposed cultural bias of others can’t even sort out when to say English and when to say British.

  • pastrygirl

    As a professional pastry chef, who also cooks savory food, this new book is a great idea. The idea is to get people to cook or bake. Ratio’s give them an understanding of why something worked or didn’t work. In addition people who who know cooking or baking can change their existing recipes to fit their needs by understanding the ratios that may need to exist for them to change the taste or texture of a recipe and make it their own. Everyone always wants to get your recipe, cooking schools give you recipes- everyone thinks that is the secret to cooking or baking sucess. There recipe, ratio and technique or execution to be sucessful. Can’t wait to buy the book

  • Michele Niesen

    Ah, yes–the cooking v. cuisine argument. I teach cooking classes. Cuisine is the student’s bag. I’m with Ruhlman. Roasting a chicken is roasting a chicken. There is not one culture nor cuisine in which a rubbery, tough, dry chicken is coveted. Not Saigon to Syracuse. Ratios in cooking are universal. I think some get confused with seasonings and saucings…but principally if the standard is created by one group of people that most cooks look to for reference it doesn’t make sense to say it’s FrancoRetro or whatever. That’s like calling the study of planets so Astronomercentric. It’s just ignorant. But then again we’re talking about a book REVIEWER. Those who can, do…and all that.

  • Kate

    I have a proof copy of the book, and while I agree with Sietsema, I don’t think this is a failing of the book. While the ratios themselves may be universal (some more than others — pie crust is pretty standard, but the cookie ratios are all over the place, and you yourself said that you varied the stock ratio to suit your preference), the applications you discuss in your book are Franco-centric. Hollandaise is not really feature of Latin American cuisine. The names of the chapters point to this — Consomme, Hollandaise, Vinaigrette. These are the underpinnings to classic French cuisine.

    I don’t have an issue with this, however. You said yourself in the introduction that you intended the book to replicate for the home cook part of the culinary school experience, and the culinary school experience is unquestionably francocentric. Many countries have looked to the French for instruction on fine cooking — Japan and England come to mind (although traditional indigenous Japanese cooking isn’t based on the French canon try going into any Japanese bakery and telling me there’s no French influence). I think the book accomplishes what it sets out to do — provide a home cook with some building blocks for cooking. If it’s a huge hit (which it should be — it’s a terrific read and — more importantly — makes me want to get in the kitchen and start cooking) you can follow up with Ratios in other traditional cuisines.

  • Arundathi

    Looking forward to your book. I doubt we’ll be able to get it in India soon.
    On another note, we don’t get vanilla beans in India, and I was wondering if I could use vanilla extract instead? How much?
    Congratulations on your book!

  • janelle

    I once heard a chef’s reason to attend culinary school: “to divorce myself from recipes.”

    I love that quote, and ‘couldn’t have said it better myself.’ It would be a proud moment to rid myself off recipe books and have instead a litany of cookbooks on my shelf.

    FYI we use your Charcuterie book regularly in our Garde Manger class; my chef is not easy to impress but he would love your discussion on RATIOS. That is precisely the underpinnings of a successful suspension…

    Keep up the good work; it will be great to read your next cookbook.

    Best,
    Janelle

  • Cynthia Bertelsen

    I have to agree that Sietsema’s anti-Francophilia comment takes the cake! I cook around the world, dipping into cuisines as varied as Indian, Chinese, African, Peruvian, Italian (especially Italian!) etc., but I always return to France.

    It’s got something to do with the French way with food — it trumps all other cuisines.

    To each his/her own, but the French long ago codified their cuisine as well as their laws, and we are all the richer for it. To ignore that stark truth misses the point.

  • Tags

    -
    This is a book for brainy cooks.

    Not to be confused with brainy writers who use terms like retrograde, purview, myriad, and “its strengths like in the wild-ass breadth of the recipes.”

  • Guy Anderson

    SO how is the weather in Ohio — Really did you think that a writer like you was not going to get the idiots that are gonna find the typo on page 212, the ink on page 56 was a little smeared. I found that lots of people slammed you and you know WHO they are (WE DON”T) we know you!,,, are a continued PUBLISHED BOOK author and tv food guy with that food maniac Bourdain and you know – you have more fans than the idiots that slam you – so don’t be riled – even though it is easier said than done sometimes – I know as the med well plus plus steak came back to the kitchen the other day and I got riled to – but you are a published author – I am a chef and THEY just keep coming back!

  • Garrett

    Hey Michael,
    I’m intrigued after talking to you about the book way back when and will put in my pre-order today. The approach you’re using is unique for a cookbook (recipe book?).
    If anything I am curious to apply your method to Thai or Chinese cooking, as frankly French isn’t one of my favorite styles of cuisine.

  • Jack Mehoff

    quiche smiche. france shmance. what about this book CHEEVER i keep hearing about … ?

  • michelle

    Ruhlman,
    This IS a revelation that will carry me aloft. As a matter of fact, I just moved (downsized) and almost discarded the ol’ electric Cuisinart ice cream maker, which was barely used, except my daughter, the French major, said we should keep it. And I’m glad I did.

    (A.) You can never go wrong with Creme Anglaise.

    And..
    (B.) What’s the matter with being a little French?

    Can’t wait for the new book!

  • Matthew Sievert

    North American cuisine owes the French. A lot of culinarians in the United States wear French brigade chef coats, and use French knives in the kitchen.

    Depicted in Mr. Ruhlman’s own book. The Certified Master chef exam offered by the “American Culinary Federation” contains heavy French influences.

  • Charlotte

    Made ice cream from the recipe yesterday — the ratio was very handy since I had a pint of cream and a quart of milk leftover from my weekly delivery of milk from a local Jersey cow — did a little math, cut the sugar some, and made a really yummy ice cream. Thanks Ruhlman!

  • Lamar

    Love the concept of your new book. What makes a good cookbook, to me, is if upon finishing it, you’ve become a better cook.

    In short, it actually teaches you something. Cookwise, The Cake Bible, Charcuterie…all of these provide you with useful skills and knowledge.

    The idea of giving people a few simple ratios to start with, and then encouraging them to use that as a springboard to their own creations…well, that’s just fantastic. Can’t wait. Thank you for continuing to put out thoughtful material!

  • Dervin

    hmm, would anybody think the reviewer is being a bit tongue in cheek?

    He also writes about the other books:
    If the book (originally published last year in England) has a vice, it lies in its Anglophilia…

    There’s even a section on pizzas that includes a sauce recipe, obviating the need for a pizza cook book.

    So I don’t know if we should really be that concerned.

  • Judy

    Guess I’d better place my pre-order on Amazon, especially with that ‘great’ review. Clearly, the reviewer doesn’t know squat about cooking or food. For the record, not more than 30 minutes ago I made some lusciously flavored ice cream using the creme anglaise base I made last night. It will be a hit.

  • bob del Grosso

    Okay, so Ruhlman strips down many of the fundamental preparations of Western Cooking to their simplest expressions and publishes a book that explains why he did it, how he did it, how it might help you think about cooking in a different way. Then some twit reviewer pops out of the ether who lacks the time or ability or drive to evaluate the truthfulness of what Ruhlman wrote. But he has to write SOMETHING or his boss might send him to the advertising department to write copy for all those massage parlors and escort services (This is the Village Voice after all.) So what does he do?

    Take a pot shot at the book for not paying attention to “the myriad cuisines of the world.”

    What an doof, I’d like to see him write about a myriad of anything.

    Of course, it is doubtful that he actually meant “myriad” because I’m sure he knows that there is not an innumerable number of culturally distinct ways of cooking. Even if we stretch the concept of cuisine to include the idea that an individual can create a personal cuisine the number of cuisines would be numerable (~6,706,993,15n minus the infants and others who don’t cook).

    Finally, to all of you who think that Ruhlman should pay attention to other culturally distinct ways of cooking in his writing.

    I’m sure he would if he felt he knew enough about them to treat them with as much thoroughness, clarity and vigor as he brings to Euro-centric cookery. Instead of opining his lack of inclusion of your favorite style of cooking, you might celebrate his dedication, tenacity and willingness to dig ever deeper into a subject in a manner that until recently would never have found its way into the popular press. You might also celebrate his bravery.

    I’m very familiar with the contents of “Ratio.” This is not one for the Rachel Ray crowd. It’s not even for the Molto Mario crowd. It is thoughtful and thought-provoking and I’m sure it is going to be very controversial. Come to think of it, if the only negative criticism it gets is that it is too narrow in its purview, I for one, will breath a sigh of relief.

  • Harry

    Thank you, Corey, for writing what I was thinking but far more coherently and eloquently. I don’t think it’s wrong to limit oneself to French/European cooking, which constitutes such a large fraction of the world’s cooking tradition, but it’s true that these ratios aren’t useful everywhere. (There is no milk-based custard or quiche in Chinese tradition, for example, only recent imports.) (“Recent” defined by Chinese standards.)

    They’ll sure be useful in my kitchen, though. I expect to buy it before I buy Charcuterie, because if I buy Charcuterie then I’ll want to make charcuterie and I really don’t have the time right now.

    PS – does anyone know if Robert Seitsema is related to the Tom Seitsema who reviews for the Washington Post?

  • Liz

    Cooking basically comes down to chemistry….reactions created by adding heat to different elements, mixtures & compounds creating new forms of matter. The basic laws of physical science do not change from region to region. Not surprising that we see parallel evolution of food types from culture to culture alongside borrowing, stealing & interpreting the recipes of other humans we come into contact with.

  • Lynda

    Understanding ratios is a fundamental to cooking. If you get the ratios then you can improvise, explore, create and make your friends very happy.

  • Kansas City rube

    I don’t understand why people are so concerned with Western cooking being too Franco-centric.

    As you were saying, we have these traditions of fundamentals and the French were among the first to codify them. Is it any surprise that they used their own language?

    This is like decrying our legal system for being too Anglo-centric and saying our courts need to get away from the Common Law and include more Confucianism into their rulings.

    Or perhaps science is too Latin-centric. Maybe we should change our system of taxonomy to include some other languages so it more truly reflects world cultures.

    “Nihilo sanctum estne?” -Max Fischer

  • Natalie Sztern

    michael i had occasion to take this one sentence and spew it out at a dinner table with the ex-dean of McGill University who could not understand the complexity of this sentence..“it’s completely retrograde in its purview -”…in and of itself the arrogance of those words put together should have made you laugh at the author’s insecure writing ability….and subsequent ignorance.

  • Dylan

    In high school I was a cook in a contemporary French restaurant. One day during prep I grabbed a cooled container of vanilla ice cream base and dropped it in the ice cream maker. Ten minutes later another cook came by looking for his crème Anglaise.

    Turned out I grabbed the wrong batch of custard. We made more Anglaise but kept the Anglaise ice cream (our Anglaise was slightly less sweet than ice cream). Of all my many many mistakes I’d made in the restaurants, this was one of the few were it wasn’t a complete loss. Ahhh, good times.

  • M.Grau

    I’m really happy to hear about this upcoming book (I would pre-order from Amazon, but instead will wait to see if Mr. Ruhlman makes a signed copy available). In fact, having just read “Making of a Chef” in December, I almost wrote to Michael asking if he could make available Chef Hestnar’s two-page sheet.

  • Elise

    I just placed my order for Ratio. After reading Ruhlman’s comments for a while now; I knew I had to order this book. My interests are not French per se, but good cooking and if you do not understand the fundamentals/ratios/ principles, then you don’t understand real cooking. The evil Mr. S must not be a real cook who wants to learn more everytime he heads into the kitchen.

  • Charlotte

    Sorry about the review, those things get under one’s skin no matter how we try not to let them (the NY Times used the adjective “methodical” in a review of my novel — it’s stuck in my craw ever since).
    However, I’m so stoked you’re doing a book on ratios! More and more I cook with the ratios in my head, and frankly, they’re not always as accurate as I’d like them to be. But the more you understand them, the easier it is to get away from recipes (which I find stifling).
    So, off to Amazon to pre-order …

  • Maura

    I’m going with the jealousy angle:

    “Yes, there are some recipes, too, including ones for chicken stock and veal stock, both much more complicated than the ones I use myself”

    Isn’t the first rule of writing “write what you know”?

    Seriously,I get while you’re riled up, Michael, because there is a backlash against French inspired cooking. It just seems silly and petty for Seitsma to complain about a book that concentrates on a particular style of cooking because he wants a different book. I’m sure he can find one somewhere.

  • brandon_w

    I am really looking forward to this book. Sorry that one of the first reviews out is bashing you. Maybe the guy is just too stupid to understand what you are trying to explain in your book.

    Both of these pictures are great, and now I’m really hungry.

  • Rhonda

    I read the three separate reviews. The first on “Ratio”, was critisized for being too French, the second for being too English and the third for being too easy. Chances are, if a Steinbeck novel was thrown into the mix that day, it would have been critized for having too many words.

    On the plus side, we (all of your readers and soon to be new owners of “Ratio”) were complimented on being “Brainy”.

    It wasn’t a well thought out critique and I am sure not the reviewer’s best work.

    Blow it off.

  • milo

    “so you are satisfied to serve people raw eggs?”

    Not to pregnant women or people in situations (just to be safe), but otherwise yes. Particularly when the raw egg is immediately going straight to the freezing process. There are plenty of ice cream recipes that use raw eggs.

    And as long as you use heavy cream, you can make pretty darn good ice cream with no eggs at all.

    I know that there are things going on when you use a custard base. I’m just saying that in my experience, the uncooked ones I have made taste every bit as good to me.

  • Kate in the NW

    Eh. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. There’s a reason we (mostly) all revere French technique, and having some knowledge of it won’t hurt ANYBODY’s cooking.

    And since when has every book on cooking carried the requirement that it delineate EVERY technique/idea/philosophy in the wide, wide, wide, WIDE world of food? LaRousse is big enough (and frustrating enough) without someone writing an OED of food.

    All I can say is that book-by-book you’re doing a service to all of us by demystifying a bunch of stuff that other people make lots of money by obscuring. Good job!

  • Beanie

    On a separate note, I keep looking at that first picture. I’m totally making a quiche for dinner tonight…

  • Vivian

    I think Mr. Sietsma needs to be reminded that the French have set a culinary standard that is embraced by so many different cultures. I grew up on Guam which is essentially an Asian and hispanic melting pot and the influence of french cuisine is definitely evident in the food of our culture.

    I am definitely looking forward to reading RATIO about 2 years ago I started converting many of my recipes from the standard measures of volume to weight all because of the fact that I seemed to be getting inconsistent results from the same basic cake recipe. I am grateful that someone has finally seen a need for this.

  • Beanie

    ArC: “Ice Cream Soup” Ha! I was making a creme Anglaise the other day for a recipe and my daughter peeked her nose over the bowl and exclaimed, “Mom! You worked that hard, just to make ice cream soup??”

    Michael, your focus is on bringing the fundamental methods of cooking to people who want to cook better. It’s not your fault that many of those fundamentals were first codified in French kitchens. It doesn’t mean you hate Morrocan food and it doesn’t make you retrograde.

    So don’t let Mr S., who undoubtedly eats Freedom Fries, get under your skin. he probably thinks we shouldn’t teach Shakespeare in high school Engligh Lit, because he’s too English.

  • Dale Beaubien

    Ruhlman,
    Glad that you are doing book with ratios. I expected elements to be like that when I purchased it. I am a profession chef with some years of experience, so I am constantly yelling ratios and proportions to my cooks. To have a modern and updated version of the little book like the old French chefs, in your pocket would be useful.
    I really enjoy your blog and books, and my copy of Elements made a good gift to a young cook.
    Keep it cooking!

  • Russ

    I remember during Making of a Chef that the matter of ratios came up at various times. Chef Felder was clear that ratios were the key to garde manger excellence. But it was Chef Hestnar who had that page and a half of ratios that contained the distilled fundamentals of Escoffier, Larousse, Careme, Julia Child, James Beard, The Joy of Cooking, and the TV Food Network. I often wondered what happened to that information. Could RATIOS be it’s rebirth ?

  • Greg

    Maybe the U.S. is retrograde since it (we) are the illegitimate child of France and England? The difficulty many people wrestle with is getting beyond words and discovering meaning. And the fatal mistake that writers will always be doomed to make is the assumption that the reader knows how to read. Good luck on your new book. Perhaps you’ll consider using the metric system in the next one out of spite?

  • e. nassar

    Damn that Julia Child and her buddy Jack Papin for cooking French food :-) . Damn them!! How dare you write a book about what you are good at and what you know best! i:e WESTERN COOKING.

    Mr. S. Critique reminds me of so many short sighted fools who critique a film or book based on what the author/filmmaker DID NOT write instead of approaching it with an understanding of what the author is actually trying to do. In other words, he is babbling on about another book, not Ratio. Your focus is not on Thai or Middle Eastern cuisine. Instead you are classically trained in mostly French techniques. So, what is wrong with that? French is a glorious cuisine that deserved every accolade it gets. Period. Matter of fact, I’d be very skeptical if you do decide to publish an Asian cookbook Ruhlman.
    Needless to say I am looking forward to Ratio and I already love that it will most certainly have weight measures.

  • Frank M

    I prefer frozen dulce leche over ice cream any day! Looking forward to the new book.

  • Victoria

    Your book is available at Amazon for pre-order, which I just did. You are in a small, small number of authors whose books I buy sight unseen, and I am looking forward to receiving it.

    Based on the above comments,you seem to have opened up a can of worms!

    I think Robert Sietsema made a silly throw-away remark not worth all the bother about it. Your book is about fundamental cooking techniques, which will stand on their own merits no matter what the label.

    I did know crème Anglaise is the base for custard ice cream as opposed to “Philadelphia” ice cream, which is what I would call American-style ice cream.

  • Salty

    The dude is behind the curve. Classic is the new thing. Classic, comfortable and close is what’s happening now.

    Bring it own!

  • carri

    Re:ArC…YES! Really good melted ice cream is essentially creme anglaise.. I’ve resorted to that in a pinch (you must promise not to tell!)
    Mr. Ruhlnman, you have alluded to this book many times and I’m so excited to see it come out, Congratulations! I have always believed that people make cooking more difficult by not learning the basic formulas I mean RATIOS) and expanding from there. Michael Laiskonis has taken this to a whole ‘nother level on his new Workbook blog, his ratios for ice cream and sorbet make my heart soar…check it out if you haven’t already.

  • Corey

    This is a very thoughtful post, but I do think that you may be missing the germ of truth that was hidden within an otherwise clunky critique.

    The properties of a foodstuff do not, of course, change from place to place, but the *significance* of these properties varies very radically depending on the context. Across time and space, one part vinegar and three parts oil will always behave the same way, but their integration only acquires significance through its social context. There is absolutely nothing intrinsically fundamental about the combination or the ratio; rather, fundamentality is an achieved status embedded in particular cultural contexts. It is only through a European frame of reference that one part vinegar and three parts oil ‘become’ a vinaigrette – a fundamental of cooking. To make the same point in a different way, blood and milk curdle just the same in the United States as they do in Kenya, but I doubt you included the optimal ratio of these ingredients in your upcoming book because the combination is only fundamental in a cultural context other than your own.

    By describing your book in such a way as to suggest that the techniques preferred and refined by French chefs happen to comprise the bulk of the universal canon of cooking fundamentals, you inevitably open yourself up to the charge of Eurocentrism. Pointing out that European cooking fundamentals can be applied anywhere in the world without violating the laws of physics is not a very convincing rebuttal, I’m afraid. Instead, you might as well just be open about what you mean by fundamental – fundamental to whom? Not having had the pleasure to view your new book, I do not want to speculate too much about its contents, but based on the critique from Mr. Sietsema (and your own admittance) it sounds to me like you are identifying fundamentals of cooking according to a Western frame of reference, meaning that the techniques themselves may not all be Western but they are fundamental because they are culturally relevant to people in the global West. Framed in a way that doesn’t conflate Western fundamentals with objective fundamentals, I think that you have a pretty awesome premise for a book and I look forward to picking it up in April.

  • Andy Coan

    The worst part of the “French cooking is from the Stone Age” mindset, to me, is that it implies that Thai, or Vietnamese, or whatever is currently de riguer (ha) is just the latest fad, which to me is far more demeaning to these culinary cultures than any book laden with eggs, flour, and butter.

    To me the entire “argument” (not really an argument, because it’s an emotional outburst, not a logical development) is just the worst sort of politically-correct, feel-good “multiculturalism” ad nauseam.

    …So in short, I believe this annoys me as much as it does you, Michael. :)

  • stephen

    Something tells me the book will be fantastic, cherished by future generations,etc.
    My suggestion would be: don’t worry about what they say: just follow your own star…

  • lindsey

    @milo: so you are satisfied to serve people raw eggs? custard-based ice creams rely on the chemical changes the ingredients undergo when cooked to a certain temperature. cooking is not necessary for sorbets, sherbets and other frozen products but I disagree entirely with you on the matter of ice cream.

    @sygyzy: if you are getting scrambled eggs, turn down the heat a little. if you want a temperature, i would say 175-180, but if you are relying on a thermometer you are not understanding the cooking process and, in my experience, some custards set up faster than others (earl grey anglaise, for example, thickens suddenly, and a beer-redux ice cream base should be cooked carefully and gently). using a thermometer is a crutch.

    @ruhlman: i’m sure ratio will be next to mcgee on the nightstand of young cooks and culinary students. any tool that helps the young cook understand WHAT, WHY and HOW a technique works–and, more importantly, how to fix a mistake, is a valued contribution.

  • Tags

    -
    Some folks just can’t get past the stereotype of the French chef in the “les Poissons” scene from “The Little Mermaid.”

    There is a huge difference between reaching back and going backwards, but there will always be those who can’t grasp the distinction.

  • Brent

    How is it that American cooking measurements came to be volume based, while European cooking is usually by weight? I’ve only recently bought a scale, and it has been a huge revelation in ratios. I’m looking forward to your book.

  • Marlene

    Michael, you went to the CIA. Most of your cooking is done in North America. Most of North American cooking has its roots in French cuisine. What is so hard to understand about that?

    I’m quite sure when you decide to tackle Asian or latin cuisine, it will be as comprehensive as Elements and Ratio’s.

    Yes there is a whole other world out there in terms of cuisines. But I suspect Ratios, like Elements, strives to teach us the basics, that we can then use to springboard into our own creations. I also suspect Sietsema didn’t read the whole book very closely.

  • Dean Estes

    One more quick remark … having just returned from Paris, I think it’s safe to say that while tradition is secure, the French still *love* to innovate, and do so well. Gastronomical Francophilia is discerning, not retrograde.

  • Dean Estes

    Although I anticipate buying your new book obviously I haven’t seen it yet. Nevertheless it’s safe to repeat in your defense that the very concept of ratio is universal, not culturally-bound. It’ll be interesting to revisit the “for brainy cooks” remark once I have your book in hand. There’s a difference between “sensible and practical” and “brainy” that I suspect Mr. Sietsema neglected to distinguish. Anyone who wants to improve their cooking game will be required to use their brain now and then. :-) I don’t blame you for being irked. The criticism came across as off-the-cuff and ill-considered. Oh, and … Vive la France!

  • Natalie Sztern

    It seems to me, by virtue of logic cause I am not a cook, that even asian foods are based on ingredients used for centuries, also in specific ratios of sweet, salty, etc., which are fundamentally asian in flavor. Foods with ingredients common amongst other cultures, including our own, like ice cream, creme anglaise, bread baking, salad dressings, etc fall under the science of cooking and/or baking; and science is based on mathematical sequences,ratios and formulas – that has been a fact since the inception of science.

    Perhaps the vinaigrette is French by nature and name; but then what would one call the vinaigrette and still know it is a vinaigrette? How is that backwards in its view? How is that retrograde in its purview?

    It is not revolutionary that countries and cultures have foods specific to regions and common to all.

    Quite frankly I wish I could learn the ratios by heart of certain recipes that are more or less a constant in my repertoire.

  • HankShaw

    I think some of the reaction (you got the same sort of blowback from Elements) is that many American readers, myself included, want the kind of super-detailed, thoughtful information you provide in Elements and your other writings that covers those other cultures. What is the ratio of cardamom to cumin to chile in a berbere and why does it matter? Must you have lavender in ras el-hanout? When making a Thai curry, if you add too much coconut milk, can you cook it down like unsalted stock? If so, then what is the effect and how is it different from a less-cooked curry? Can you add too much kombu when making a tosa soy sauce, and if so, what happens?

    Get my point? Not every cuisine uses flour and eggs and butter, and while I suspect the information they teach at CIA would apply in many of the cases I mention above, there is a whole world of deep cooking knowledge in the various African or Indian or Asian cuisines where it would not. And I have found precious little serious scholarship on this sort of knowledge.

    So while Ratio may not be “that” book, I am guessing those who criticize it in the press were hoping it might be. At any rate, good luck with the book!

    Hank

  • S. Woody

    I thought the entire idea of a classical cooking school education is to provide the students with a common set of techniques and a mind-set, from which they can then expand. I cannot recall reading anywhere that these techniques can only be used in preparing French food. And I’ve lost track of how many major chefs have come from strong ethnic roots, learned the classic techniques, and then applied them to their heritage foods and surprised us all. In ignoring this, as he did with his comment, Seitsema just shows himself to be a snob.

  • milo

    Unless it is a specific recipe where cooking is absolutely necessary, I never bother with ice cream recipes that require cooking – in my experience, simply mixing together the right ingredients is enough to get mind blowing results.

  • DC

    Haven’t you received similar criticism for Elements? Maybe on eGullet…?

    Seems to be a simple case of a reader’s expectation being undermined by the actual book itself, which is to say, Sietsema said something silly. It seems more of an afterthought to fill out a word count.

    I wouldn’t worry about it. Though you should definitely think up a book project that makes you go Asia-crazy. Think about how fun that would be!

  • sygyzy

    I know you try to keep things casual but I also know you are a stickler for details (see kitchen scale post). Would it be useful to post a temperature to cook the anglaise to? (~170-175F)? I know I’ve had much better luck using a thermometer than a wooden spoon as an indicator. Now instead of scrambled eggs at the bottom of the put, I only have a little bit of solids :)

  • Karin (Grew up in Cleveland and miss it in VA)

    Best wishes on your forthcoming book.

    Coming from a German immigrant family that arrived with their baking scales, it was how I and probably many others learned to cook and bake as children.

    We are a recent generation that had to learn cups and teaspoon measures along with our parents in the effort to make American food.

    No one gave a tinker’s damn as to what protocol we were ascribing to. We make the best food possible with age old techniques that know no country allegiance.

    I still use my baking scale regularly. It is the only way I can make the recipes that are family traditions. And don’t you dare call me French!